Posts Tagged With: Protagonist

MWN Spotlight ~ Nancy Barr

Nancy BarrWhere are you from?

I was born in Illinois, lived in Southern California for several years as a child, and have lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula since 1981.
Tell us your latest news?

I switched careers from journalism to higher education about seven years ago and since then have earned a master’s degree in rhetoric and technical communication and started teaching communication to engineering students at Michigan Technological University.  I’m now working on a PhD, but I’ve started a new fiction project as well.  I have no idea when it will be ready for publication, but it’s great to be writing fiction again.
When and why did you begin writing?

I discovered I loved writing when I was still in elementary school.  I started keeping a journal of sorts to help me deal with life.  I never thought of being a professional writer until college and then an internship led me to a job at the local newspaper.  I began my first novel in 2000 because I felt I had a story to tell.  The characters had been developing for a few years and it just seemed time to put them on paper.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I first felt like a “real” writer when my second book, “Page One: Vanished,” was released, even though I had been a “professional” for many years by then.  The first book felt like a fluke, a dream, but the second book made me feel like a legitimate author.
What inspired you to write your first book?

There was no single thing that inspired me.  The “Page One” trilogy’s protagonist, Robin Hamilton, was VERY loosely based on my experience as a small-town newspaper reporter.  She’s just prettier, smarter, and scrappier.  None of the other characters have any association with anything real and neither does the plot, except the opening scene in Ludington Park, where the first murder takes place.  I used to walk through the park quite regularly and that’s what started the creative process for that book.
Do you have a specific writing style?

Yes, my journalism experience taught me the value of concise writing.  I love words, I just use them strategically.
How did you come up with the title?

The publisher, Susan Bays of Arbutus Press, wanted to develop a brand for the books, thus the “Page One” tag, indicating a news story worthy of page one.  Then each book has a teaser about the plot.  The first one revolves around a hit and a run death, the second book deals with the disappearance of several young women, and the third one deals with the drug trade (the U.P.’s notorious winter is also a character).
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Resilience.  Life deals my characters a lot of heartbreak but they come through it stronger.



How much of the book is realistic?

These situations certainly could happen, but they are pure fiction.  Unfortunately, “Page One: Whiteout” is the most true-to-life as U.P. communities struggle to deal with the influx of drugs like heroin and home-grown crystal meth.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Robin’s mother died when she was 10, while mine died when I was 9.  I wanted to explore a strong father-daughter relationship, like the one I had with my own father.
What books have most influenced your life most?

Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books and Judy Blume’s books about adolescence got me hooked on reading as a child.  By the time I was 10, I was reading everything mystery or paranormal-related in the school library.  When I read my first Stephen King book, though, I remember thinking, “I could do this, I could see myself writing someday.”  Of course, it was another 15 years before my first book was published, but that’s where it started.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Stephen King.  I must have read his book “On Writing” at least a half dozen times now.  I use his advice about eliminating clutter from your writing when I teach my engineering students.  It’s true regardless of genre.
What book are you reading now?

I’m never reading just one book at a time.  I’m reading a history of the Vikings, a scholarly work by Nancy Hartsock called “Money, Sex, and Power”, and the fifth book in the Harry Potter series (I never had time to read them when they were released!). Next will be “In the Sanctuary of Outcasts:  A Memoir” by Neil White.  It’s Michigan Tech’s Summer Reading Program for our incoming first-year students.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

I’m sure there are lots of great ones out there, but I’ve been so focused on my graduate work that I don’t get much time to explore new fiction authors.
What are your current projects?

I’m working on something very different from my first three books.  It’s a mystery of sorts that takes place in the Copper Country in the early 1970s (a period which has really captured my imagination), just after the last copper mine shut down.  It will be darker, edgier, and more along the lines of an early Stephen King work than the “Page One” trilogy.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Teachers!  I was lucky to have some great teachers along the way who pushed me to do my best and challenge myself, never allowing me to settle for “good enough.”
Do you see writing as a career?

Absolutely! I write novels for entertainment, academic articles for my day job, and I teach writing.  It’s the only thing I know how to do to pay the bills!


If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Not at all.  What finally made it into print is the third complete rewrite.  My writing has matured over the years so I’m not as enamored with the first one, but many reviewers thought it was a good first effort so I don’t beat myself up about it too much.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

My mother was an avid reader and I caught the bug from her.  From there, it was just a natural progression to writing.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?

It has a strong female protagonist (naturally), a newcomer to the Keweenaw who is a product of the Sixties, unafraid to challenge the status quo.  I haven’t quite figured out the trajectory of the plot because it’s early in the creative process, but I’ve sketched out some unique characters.  I’m very big on strong characters in my novels!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Plotting is always the toughest for me.  There’s a balance between simplicity and complexity.  I want the story arc to be simple enough to connect with readers, but to have enough complexity to keep them engaged to the last word.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Other than Stephen King, I have favorite books of certain authors.  I’ve read Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” countless times (Mrs. Danvers is one of my favorite characters ever!). I love Anne Rice’s first two books in her vampire series.  William Kent Krueger’s mystery series set in and around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is beautifully written. And I could go on and on.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

Not so much now since it’s been a while since I’ve released a new book, but I still periodically give library talks, which I love!
Who designed the covers?

The publisher, Susan Bays, designed each cover.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Again, it’s always the plotting.  I have the most fun with characterizations.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

With each books I become a better writer and I have learned to appreciate a great editor!
Do you have any advice for other writers?

Focus on developing your craft any way you can.  Write blogs, be a columnist for the local newspaper.  Put together a family history.  Enter short story contests.   Just keep writing and putting your work out there.  Develop a thick skin.  No matter how great your writing, someone will always find fault with it so develop and nurture your own writing style.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I appreciate your loyalty.  I know many people would like to see another “Page One” book, but it’s time we all moved on. I like to think Robin is enjoying her new life.  I look forward to

meeting more of you when the next book is released!

  • Name of Author– Nancy Barr
  • Name of Book(s)– “Page One: Hit and Run” “Page One: Vanished” “Page One: Whiteout”

Excerpt: Page One Vanished excerpt

Page One VanishedPage One WhiteOutPage One Hit & Run


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Workshop for Writers: Brainstorming Techniques

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ARTICLE: How to Write Engaging Description By Irene Watson #mwn

Expert Author Irene Watson

Too much description is one of the biggest faults a book can have. Too many details that distract from the story’s plot or its characters will cause readers to become bored, to skip over sections of description, and perhaps even to give up on reading the book. As author Elmore Leonard has famously said in his “Ten Rules of Writing”: “Leave out the boring parts.”

But how do you leave out the boring parts while still providing the details necessary to describe the characters or the setting? Here are a few tips for creating effective description.

Hook the Reader Now. Describe Later. The Victorians did not mind a lot of description. But they had a lot more time to read than us because they had limited entertainment-no movies, no computers, no virtual reality or video games to play, not so much media competing for their attention. Their novels tended to run to three volumes and they didn’t care how long it took them to read a book because often they didn’t have many books to read. Today’s readers are different. They want manageable stories-ones they can read in a few hours, in a sitting, and ones that keep the pace moving forward.

The trick of good storytelling now is to hook the reader right away. Victorian authors might have spent the entire first chapter describing the house where the characters live or the peculiarities of the main character, all in third person narration. Today’s reader will rebel. Instead, begin in the middle of the action. Write an attention grabbing sentence to begin the book, such as, “Nobody knew just how Joanie had died, but when her body was found with a green skin color and exuding the smell of rotting fish, it was very clear that she was dead.” This kind of sentence immediately makes the reader curious what happened so he will read on. Beginning with a line of dialogue, a question or statement that raises questions, is also a good idea, for example: “What makes you think I would do a crazy thing like agree to a green card marriage with you?” Judy demanded. The question grabs the reader’s attention, making him want to find out just what this situation is all about.

Neither of these examples has anything really to do with description, but that’s my point. Avoid the description until you have the reader’s interest. Keep that first chapter a page turner and save the description for later. Begin in the middle of the action, a pivotal moment for the main character, and then in the second chapter, after you’ve hooked the reader, you can go on to describe the character and the setting.

Describe Only What is Significant. Want to bore the reader? Describe everything. Nineteenth century authors were good at that. Victor Hugo would throw in an entire chapter in the middle of the action to describe what Notre Dame Cathedral looked like, while all the while the reader is saying, “Let’s get back to the Hunchback and Esmeralda.” Often these old authors would have a scene where two characters meet. The first character enters the room where the second character is seated, and before a word is out of their mouths, we are given a description of the room-perhaps the office of the second character-that goes on for paragraphs. It’s possible that knowing about the dusty bookshelves in the room, the peeling wallpaper, the cracked windowpane, etc. all bring up atmosphere and help us to get to know that this second character is an unsuccessful lawyer. But a paragraph of that at most is sufficient. We don’t need to know about the broken clock, the Victorian light fixtures, the mahogany desk, the swivel chair etc. And unless this room is to be the setting for several more scenes, there’s no point in bringing all this information before the reader’s eyes.

Rule of thumb. If an item or character is significant to the plot, describe it. If not, ignore it. For example, a family heirloom wedding ring that is lost but must be found, and will have the plot center around it, is worth describing. The wallpaper in a room is not, unless its pattern is actually the disguise for a treasure map. Same with people. The girl at Kinko’s who makes copies for the main character does not need to be described unless she’ll be in multiple scenes and a recurring character for whom the main character has feelings, or she’s someone with feelings for the main character who is going to act upon those feelings, which will make her significant to the plot.

Again, “Leave out the boring parts.”

Give the Character, not the Narrator, Descriptive Power. Which of these two passages is most effective?


    1. Mark was a tall young man of twenty-three. He was a bit on the skinny side which made him less attractive than his beefier male friends, but in another few years as his friends put on weight, this thin exterior would serve Mark well. He wore a button down shirt and glasses and had the appearance of a nerd, but his pleasant manner, good looks, and piercing blue eyes still often made the ladies pay attention.
  1. When Mark and Trevor walked into the room, Sheila’s eyes were instantly drawn to Trevor for his muscular build, dark hair and eyes, and his sexy saunter. It wasn’t until he left the dance floor that his friend Mark came under her radar. As Sheila saw Mark smiling while laughing with another girl, she instantly felt a surge of jealousy because she could tell from his honest look that he was the real thing-and he had better genes. He was tall and thin, while Trevor’s muscles would soon enough turn to fat. Sheila badly wanted a baby. She was tired of playboys, and Mark had that responsible look-a dressy button-down shirt as opposed to Trevor’s black skin-tight t-shirt-that made Sheila think she might have just found the father of her child.


Which description is better? I hope you think it’s the second one. What makes this second description better? It’s more engaging because we learn about more than one character-actually three characters are described here. The description is more effective because the two characters Mark and Trevor are compared to one another and a judgment is made about them. We don’t have an omniscient or indifferent point of view; we have the viewpoint of the main female character, and in learning how she describes to herself the men she sees, we learn something about her character as well. Best of all, the description furthers the plot. We have character motivation for the events about to happen in the novel. We know where the plot is headed. Sheila is going to try to win over Mark, and we even have the possibility of a love triangle since Trevor is Mark’s friend but also a player who might end up being interested in Sheila. A lot of possibilities exist with this passage and the reader becomes curious just what will happen.

Putting the description in the eyes of another character is also effective through dialogue. Sheila could next ask her friend Veronica whether she knows Mark, and then they can have a discussion about him that adds to the character details and description. It’s far more interesting than straightforward description.

Description Challenge: Pay attention to the novels and stories you read. Do you find yourself skimming passages? Stop and ask yourself why. Is it because you want to find out what is going to happen and the description gets in the way? Are you bored? If you were writing the book, how would you do it differently?

Look at the descriptive passages in the story or novel you are writing. How can you tweak them so places and people are described through a character’s eyes rather than your own as the narrator?

Good writing means having control over the descriptive passages. Failure to make the description effective will bog down the story and turn off your readers. Transform your description into part of the plot and character development and watch your story metamorphose into something remarkable.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.

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